I have always been baffled about the sensitivity to touch that seems to accompany fibromyalgia. Personally, I don't deal with it all the time but in the time of a flare, even feeling my clothes against my skin can be unbearable. So I sought out to find some answers and came across this informative article on about.com by one of the Fibromyalgia & CFS writers, Adrienne Dellwo.
It's another one of those fibromyalgia symptoms that just doesn't make sense - pain, sometimes severe, from a simple touch. It's almost like having a sunburn all the time.
This kind of pain is called tactile allodynia. "Allodynia" means a painful response to typically non-painful stimulus, and "tactile" means touch. This is what makes your clothes hurt when they touch or brush your skin, what makes a sheet feel like sandpaper, and turns a light touch into searing pain.
While some types of pain (like muscle or joint aches) are very common, tactile allodynia is rare. It's associated mainly with pain conditions includingneuropathy, postherpetic neuralgia and migraine along with fibromyalgia. It comes from a malfunction of specialized nerves, called nociceptors, that sense information about things like temperature and painful stimuli right at the skin. For some reason, our nociceptors start telling our brains that just about any sensation is painful. Researchers believe is part of the central sensitization associated with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and a handful of other conditions.
So what can we do about tactile allodynia? Drugs that work for some people include:
Some people also get relief from topical pain creams (capsaicin, Tiger Balm, Aspercreme, BioFreeze).
In my case, I only have tactile allodynia in a few areas (mainly my waist, chest and feet) and it needs to be set off by something, like scratching an itch or stepping on a power cord. I have to be especially careful about how I dress, because a too-tight band or scratchy fabric can cause intense burning pains that start at the skin and then rip through my whole body. (If this sounds like you, read How to Dress for Less Fibromyalgia Pain.)
Do you have tactile allodynia? Have you found anything that helps? What makes it worse? Share your experience by leaving a comment below!